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The managing partner of our firm, like many of his counterparts at small firms, is focused on growth. When discussion turns to how we can become more efficient and effective to attract the next level of clients, the topic usually turns to technology and, in particular, to information management. The small law firm deals with vast quantities of data. It receives client information, discovery information, financial information, calendar docketing information and records information consisting of both paper and electronic records. CHOOSING THE RIGHT PROGRAM Within the legal industry, many vendors are solely geared toward applying one program to manage all of the above mentioned areas. Sounds easy enough, but in practice it is not. Choosing the right program or programs to utilize in your firm is a complex decision. First, you must inventory your firm’s needs as a whole, then identify existing weaknesses and strengths, and finally, build off that base. Many law firms have several programs in place that separately manage one or more aspects of the information they receive. For example, our firm uses Worldox to manage documents and e-mails, TimeMatters for contact and calendar management and PcLaw for time keeping, billing and storing client payment records. Each of these programs is well suited for its individual purpose, but because these programs were not integrated with one another, inefficiencies exist. As a small firm, we are concerned about cost. Recently, we have been considering whether the implementation of a case management system (CMS), such as Time Matters 6.0, will solve these problems and supply a return on the often-considerable initial investment. Records management is the foundation of case management. Simply, a firm cannot successfully handle a case if the records are not properly kept and made accessible. Thus, it is essential that a records management program integrate not only with any potential CMS, but also with the firm’s existing e-mail programs, such as Outlook, the word processing programs, such as Microsoft Word, and the document comparison programs, such as Deltaview. How does this all work? Assume an attorney in the firm drafts a contract and e-mails it to the client, and the next day the attorney is out sick. With a records management program implemented, the document and e-mail will be profiled through the Worldox program and cataloged in the client’s virtual file. So on the day the assigned attorney is out, should the client call with questions, another attorney can easily pull up the client’s virtual file, quickly view the latest information sent to the client, and address the client’s needs. Nevertheless, records management is just one aspect of a CMS. A CMS should be structured and focused on the intricacies of managing a legal case, including calendaring, managing phone messages, creating, revising and storing electronic documents, and managing e-mail. Although each law firm may have unique needs, a CMS should always improve organization, track and process case-related data, automatically generate file facts/summaries, maintain a complete office calendar/docket, catalog discovery and document exchange, keep track of task assignments, share information, manage electronic documents and generate management reports. What is the value of having the entire contents of your client’s files at your fingertips? Or of having the most up-to-date client and contact information so your handling of clients is quick and effective? This is priceless. Attorneys and staff can process cases in less time and eventually expand individual caseloads, without working longer hours. The productivity gained by the firm will yield costs savings for the clients, create greater client retention and possibly improve collection of receivables. It is clear that a CMS can increase your return on investment many times over in a relatively short period. INTERVIEWING VENDORS When interviewing CMS vendors, ask the right questions, or you may be stuck with a program that is useless because it is not geared towards your practice area or size firm. First, remember that you are in charge. Do not let the sales person sell you every bell and whistle in the system. Focus on what’s important to you. Explain what your firm does and your 3-5 year business plan so that growth and change can be anticipated from the outset. This will help the salesperson customize the presentation. Second, it is important to realize that one size does not fit all. Although your firm may be growing from 10 to 25 in the next five years, your needs differ greatly from a firm growing from 100 to 400. Find out how many installations were done at small firms, midsize firms and large firms. It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel. Often what other firms your size are using will be a good base to start from. Third, have the sales representative demonstrate the five key CMS “processes.” These are: creating a new matter; creating a calendar entry; generating a document; creating a case diary or case note; and generating reports. This will allow you to gauge how user-friendly and effective the program would be in your area of practice. Are the drop-down menus customizable? Will it integrate with other programs? Are the basic report templates useful to management and can they be customized as well? Knowing the answers to these questions will quickly unveil the likely usefulness of the product. Fourth, ask about the company’s history. The longer the company has been around, the better. Especially with software, you want to make sure that the company has perfected its product and will be there to support it. A good vendor will be able to demonstrate its track record and provide references. A fifth concern is customization. The point here is to find out how easily the product can be customized. Although all programs are customizable to an extent, you don’t want to have to call an expert in every time you want to design a new report. Sixth is the rollout timeline. What is the usual time it takes to completely implement the system? Additionally, can it be installed during nonbusiness hours? Will a representative be present during the first week you go “live”? Your firm can lose a lot of money if the implementation is not handled diligently from beginning to end. Steps to consider are: installation on the server; implementation into the existing environment (Microsoft Windows); conversion of existing data; training; and support. Lastly, but importantly, cost is a key factor. Not only should you be concerned with the cost of the program itself, which usually accounts for only 50 percent of the implementation expense, you should also be aware of consultant fees, your internal (or external) IT fees, expansion cost, annual maintenance fees and support fees. In my experience, everything is negotiable. Even a small firm can negotiate a fair price because most vendors are anxious to bring in a new client with the hope that word of mouth will gain them more clients. TRAINING YOUR ATTORNEYS Today, a CMS is essential for the firm that wants to become more efficient, increase its bottom line and increase its potential client base. With a CMS, a firm can efficiently manage the information pertinent to the client’s matter. However, it is essential to properly train your attorneys and administrative staff in the firm’s procedures and the system’s capabilities. By streamlining case information into one system, the firm will quickly see an increase in its bottom-line. Making information accessible to all attorneys by the click of a mouse eliminates the time attorneys normally expend either searching for the information in a physical file or in meetings with others. MAXIMIZING YOUR ROI Finally, to maximize your return on investment with a CMS, I recommend giving your attorneys a practical way of accessing your system while working more hours without having to stay late at the office or come in on weekends. Our firm implemented a Web-based program that allows attorneys and other staff to remotely access their office PC from any computer over the Internet. GoToMyPC, a Citrix product, provides five corporate licenses for a 30-day trial period. After our initial trial period, we quickly realized how valuable a tool this program would be for our staff and promptly purchased licenses, giving our attorneys the ability to fully utilize all of our programs and maintain client files without having to be at the office. The initial investment was modest, but the return on investment was realized in less than 6 months. The “big” small firm must take advantage of today’s technology to compete with larger firms. Understanding and utilizing a CMS will help you gain that competitive edge needed to separate your firm from the rest. Tanya Duprey is the firm administrator in the New York, N.Y., and Princeton, N.J., offices of Tarter Krinsky & Drogin.

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